At this point, you probably take personal conveyance for granted. There’s a car sitting parked in your driveway or garage, and you know that at any moment the urge strikes you, you can hop in and drive anywhere you want. You can head to the gas station to buy a candy bar, or you can undertake a road trip across several states. It’s become more than just a pretty face to look great in the garage.
Since hardly anyone alive can remember a time when cars were not readily available, it’s difficult to imagine the historical period right before this when horses were the most common personal travel method. We still use the term “horsepower” when talking about cars, a reminder that these animals were our previously preferred way of getting around.
Let’s look at how cars became a staple of American society, and we’ll also talk about whether that’s likely to continue as time passes.
Mass Automobile Manufacturing
The original Ford Model A and Model T were highly ambitious for the time when they first started appearing in the early 1900s. They represented the peak of modern engineering, even though we would consider them to be laughably primitive today, particularly the way the driver would have to crank-start them before getting behind the wheel.
For a time, horses and cars shared the roads in major American cities. You have to feel bad for the horses during that era, but within a few years, they had largely disappeared in favor of increasingly more complex and reliable automobiles.
Car mass-production methods were what really led to this new transportation form taking off. Companies began to utilize either new or used CNC machines to create the machine parts that made up the early cars.
Once mass-production happened, and these early models started rolling off the assembly lines in greater and greater numbers, the average citizen saw that they’d be foolish not to start using this remarkable new technology.
A New Way of Getting Around
It was around this time that industrialization really started taking off in many different American cities. It’s true that not everyone could afford an automobile, but more people could as time passed, which meant they had a personal conveyance method that could get them to work in an urban center. Others who could not afford a car yet could still take public transportation, such as trolley cars.
This eventually led to what we perceive as a modern American city. Urban centers were where the most commerce occurred, while suburbs sprung up around them. Workers could drive in their new cars from the suburbs into the city every day and then drive home at night.
Cars in Rural Areas
Eventually, as the largest car companies, like Ford, General Motors, and Chrysler, started producing more and different models, cars got so cheap that they started appearing in more rural areas as well. Those who first bought them sold or traded them in for newer models, creating a secondary used car market.
This basic model still exists today with certified pre-owned and used vehicles. When poorer people in rural regions could start affording used cars, that was the time when this transportation method had truly taken over America.
What Is to Come?
Cars changed America permanently, in both positive and negative ways. As far as the positive, they were and still remain a way for people to get around, so they don’t have to seek out public transportation and wait for it to arrive. If you reside in a public transportation desert, with no trains or buses anywhere nearby, it’s tough to live without a driver’s license and your own car.
On the slate’s negative side, we’ve made so many cars that have run on fossil fuels for so many years that we have badly damaged the planet. Cars are not the only big polluters, of course. Industrial processes pollute, yet we need some of them if we want to enjoy various modern conveniences and products.
Americans still love cars because of the convenience that they provide. There’s nothing wrong with that, in theory. Pollution is still a concern, though, which is why car companies are scrambling to come up with better hybrid models and electric vehicles.
It will definitely be fascinating to watch how transportation evolves as we get further into this young century. Will Americans still prefer to have their own cars, just ones that don’t pollute as much as earlier models? Or will ride shares and public transportation methods start to take over the landscape?